Clowes and Zwigoff's Ghost World: Enid Softens Up and Zwigoff Writes Himself In
Throughout interviews with Zwigoff, the director consistently maintains that Seymour had entered the story as a vehicle to justify the inclusion of favourite selections from his collection of old records. As Clowes and Zwigoff shopped the script around Hollywood, the studios insisted that then men capitalize on lucrative soundtrack possibilities, suggesting high energy tracks by popular musical acts such as Green Day and The Smashing Pumpkins. The thought of this revolted the two avid record collectors, and they schemed of a way to get their own taste in music represented in the film, thus the creation of the old record nerd, Seymour (Cates, Clowes, and Zwigoff par 25). As an unintended result of this attempt to foil the production studios, Zwigoff had ultimately written himself into the film, much like Clowes had appeared within the pages of his own comic. As Zwigoff noted in an interview, "I was looking for an excuse to put this type of music I like, which is, you know, what Seymour liked...And then I got stuck with this character who was loosely based on me and I started writing his stuff cause that was easier for me" (Ault, Clowes, and Zwigoff par. 9). Zwigoff's obsession with Nabokov's Lolita inspired him to develop an unconventional love affair between the older Seymour and teenaged Enid, and the dominant romantic plot was thus was introduced into the movie (Crawford online). The presence of Seymour enabled the co-screenwriters, Clowes and Zwigoff, to structure a more streamlined narrative from the original source material that also extended the scope and audience of the movie beyond a strictly teenaged demographic, ensuring its widespread appeal. The process of character condensation, that is, the amalgamation of Bob Skeetes, Bearded Windbreaker, and elements of Josh, into one character, Seymour, also contributed to the sharpening of the plot for the purposes of the limited duration of a one hour and fifty-one minute long movie.
According to E.B. Roper in his comparison of the Ghost World comic and film, "When the average graphic novel reader sits down to a new comic book, he or she may not necessarily expect quick resolution...Characters may or may not be understandable or likeable or even interesting, depending on the genre of the comic" (online). In the comic version of Ghost World, Enid comes across as not entirely likeable or easy to sympathize with, playing cruel pranks on harmless old men like Bob Skeetes and Bearded Windbreaker, leaving her best friend out of her plans for the future, and ridiculing almost everything that comes across her path. Enid's insularity and lack of compassion eventually isolates her from her two best friends in the world, Josh and Rebecca, and the reader is not particularly invited to sympathize with her plight. The average reader will identify with Enid's cynicism, but she remains abrasive and aloof. Conversely, the Enid character presented in the film version is kinder, gentler, and softer at the core. Though she retains the jaded cynicism and misfit obsession of the comic Enid, the viewer sees the world through Enid's eyes as her relationships fail and dreams dissolve, inviting a greater degree of sympathy and identification. Additionally, Enid's involvement with Seymour, who she sees as an older version of herself, adds a veneer of humanity to a character who refused to pursue romantic relationships in the comic.
Why was Enid softened for the film? Roper theorizes, "A small dosage of the uncaring, unappealing person that is comic book form Enid is much more tolerable because it comes in small amounts. Films present a character's story in one sitting and likeable characters are key if the audience is going to relate and enjoy the film" (online). Clowes and Zwigoff aspired to make an enjoyable and quirky film that would appeal to a wide audience, while also delivering a scathing critique on the consumer capitalism and corporate homogenization that has taken over America. A dislikable Enid would have been a disservice to the film and would have restricted the appeal to a limited audience, namely filmgoers with an appetite for the avant-garde. Another shift in Enid's character is the deemphasis on her motivation to escape the ghost world, and an enhanced focus on Rebecca's desire to adapt to the world she had previously scorned with Enid in high school. In the comic, Rebecca does not intend to move out of her Oomi's apartment, whereas her search for an apartment is a key sub-plot in the film. Assuming that Enid shares her desire to pursue an adult life in an apartment of her own, Rebecca pressures her friend into apartment hunting and shopping for shoddy plastic housewares at pretentious big box stores, creating a rift in the already disintegrating friendship.
Enid wants no part of Rebecca's vision of adulthood, and rolls her eyes at apartments and blue plastic cups. She has no idea want she wants in life, sabotaging her friendship with Seymour in a bout of drunken sex and standing Rebecca up on moving day. While Rebecca suffers through her days working at The Coffee Experience, Enid meanders through life without a sense of purpose, her one hope at escape, a scholarship at an arts college, dashed by an ill fated submission of an old racist "Coon's Chicken Inn" logo to her remedial art class art show. The intentional purposeless rebellion that carried her through high school becomes a dispiriting stagnation as Enid attempts to define herself in an world she has nothing in common with. Despite the humour present in the film, at its heart Ghost World becomes a critical commentary on the dull conformity of the world. It critiques the consumer capitalism that supports soulless franchises like Wowsville Authentic 50s Diner and godawful bands like Blueshammer, while neglecting the depth and substance offered by traditional blues musicians and truly authentic 50s holdovers, like the Quality Cafe. Reflecting the worldview of its director, the Ghost World movie becomes less an examination of female friendships and more an intelligent satire on the current sad state of American society.
As Zwigoff admits, his vision of the ghost world is a "concrete and critical warning, a place where oddity and variance have been smothered in heartless uniformity and chronic calculation" (Thomson 9). Near the end of the film, this smothering becomes actualized as the remedial art teacher, Roberta Allsworth (another fabricated character), smothers a student with a plaster mask as she informs Enid that her scholarship had been declined due to the controversy over the "Coon's Chicken Inn" sign. Variance and creativity in art, in this new scene, are rejected for more palatable works that do not question society's assumptions. Despite of the numerous differences between the plot of the film and the comic, in both versions Enid winds up on a bus out of town in the final scenes/panels. In the film, a blue-lit and abandoned street scene, illuminated by televisions flickering through apartment windows, sends Enid off into the night. Similarly, Enid boards a bus and leaves the ghost world in the final panels of Clowes's series, and the very last panel shows a grim and desolate street. The ending leaves the viewer with a question mark, as does the comic, but Clowes and Zwigoff are quick to correct interpretations that assume Enid has committed suicide. In an interview, when confronted with the suicide theory, Clowes responds, "The first time I heard that I said 'What? You're out of your mind. What are you talking about?'" (Ault, Clowes, and Zwigoff par. 25). It's safe to assume that comic-Enid and film-Enid have both attempted a great escape from the soulless ghost world - whether the Enids are successful or not is left entirely to the viewer's imagination.
This website was created by Brianna Erban for LIS 518: Comic Books and Graphic Novels in Schools and Public Libraries
Last updated October 20, 2009.